War and the Arts

"They've evidently seen me!"

How did artists react to the Great War? 

"A war artist depicts some aspect of war through art. The art might be a pictorial record, or it might commemorate how war shapes lives. War artists explore the visual and sensory dimensions of war, often absent in written histories or other accounts of warfare."

On the right are brief examples; more will be added in the coming months, from the Great War and from more recent conflicts, plus links to pages with further discussion.

  • Poetry
  • Painting and the Visual Arts
  • Music
  • Biography

If you have a contribution you would like to make, please email us (See "Contacts" for details)

 

Poetry

"I looked up from my writing"

I looked up from my writing,
And gave a start to see,
As if rapt in my inditing,
The moon's full gaze on me.

Her meditative misty head
Was spectral in its air,
And I involuntarily said,
"What are you doing there?"

"Oh, I've been scanning pond and hole
And waterway hereabout
For the body of one with a sunken soul
Who has put his life-light out.

"Did you hear his frenzied tattle?
It was sorrow for his son
Who is slain in brutish battle,
Though he has injured none.

"And now I am curious to look
Into the blinkered mind
Of one who wants to write a book
In a world of such a kind."

Her temper overwrought me,
And I edged to shun her view,
For I felt assured she thought me
One who should drown him too.

Thomas Hardy (one of the 'Poems of War and Patriotism' from his 1917 volume, "Moments of Vision")

"Dulce et decorum est"

Bent double, like old beggars under sacks,

Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge,

Till on the haunting flares we turned our backs

And towards our distant rest began to trudge.

Men marched asleep. Many had lost their boots

But limped on, blood-shod. All went lame; all blind;

Drunk with fatigue; deaf even to the hoots

Of tired, outstripped Five-Nines that dropped behind.

Wilfred Owen (Drafted in the first half of October 1917 and published posthumously in 1920.)

Painting and the Visual Arts

"Stormtroopers Advancing Under Gas", etching and aquatint by Otto Dix.
 

"German Soldiers Carry Wounded American Soldiers to a First Aid Station" by George Matthew Harding.

Music

"Hanging on the old barbed wire"

Unsurprisingly, this soldier's song from the Great War was not popular with the officer class, who thought it bad for morale. Attempts to suppress it were unsuccessful.

Biography

"Memoirs of an Infantry Officer" - Siegfried Sassoon

The novel by Siegfried Sassoon, first published in 1930, is a fictionalised account of Sassoon's own life during and immediately after World War I.

 

"Her Privates We" - "Private 19022"

 

This book (later published in full as "The Middle Parts of Fortune" under the author's real name Frederick Manning) is widely regarded as one of the very finest novels based upon an author's experiences of warfare.

"Good-Bye to All That" - Robert Graves

A substantial part of Graves' autobiography provides a detailed description of trench warfare, including the tragic incompetence of the Battle of Loos and the bitter fighting in the first phase of the Somme Offensive.